I had the opportunity to accompany my friend Mattia, an opera singer and opera agent to Bregenz, Austria for the annual Bregenzer Festspiele. The Seebühne (or floating stage) is located together with its 7,000 seat open-air amphitheatre literally on the shore of Lake Constance.

The festival was founded in 1946, just one year after World War II, and became an international event attended by people mainly from Germany, Switzerland and France highlighting the need for an immediate return to art and culture. Floating barges provided the original stages and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra have performed there every year since but always with a different conductor. The theatre is part of several others contained in the modern purpose-built cultural and conference centre. For two consecutive years 2015 and 2016 Puccini’s Turandot was performed as the main attraction.

Sunset over Lake Constance                     

Sunset over Lake Constance                     

Staging for  Carmen

Staging for Carmen

Georges Bizet’s famous opera Carmen was of particular interest since Mattia was agent for the French soprano Melissa Petit who played Micaëla, whilst Carmen was portrayed by the Ukrainian mezzo-soprano Lena Belkina.

We anticipated a six-hour road trip from Lucca to Bregenz that lengthened to eight hours after a much appreciated ten-euro pranza lavoro on the Italian side of the Swiss border. The route we chose took us past the southern shore of Lake Como, across Lake Lugano and on through the San Bernadino pass and tunnel.

As expected, the views from this high mountain pass in the Swiss Alps, that connect the Hinterrhein and Mesolcina valleys between Thusis and Bellinzona, are spectacular.

The opera was a stunning spectacle that utilised fully the stage setting on the lake, designed by E S Devlin OBE, an English and internationally acclaimed stage designer who

‘creates kinetic sculptures meshed with light and film for opera, dance, film, theatre, runway shows and concerts’ (see ES Devlin website).

Especially dramatic were the parts of the opera acted-out at times under two feet of water and stunts performed and arias sung high up on top of the back-drop of the ‘cards’ stage setting.

The orchestra, conducted by Italian Paolo Carignani and seen only by video link, played the music out of sight of the audience, since there is no traditional ‘orchestra pit’ and was relayed with superb technical sound quality from another part of the theatre complex. Mattia and I were privileged to share the after-opera dinner with the performers, to chat and listen to their post-performance comments until the early hours.

As is often the case with Mattia, last minute arrangements regarding accommodation were non-existent but I managed to obtain rooms in a small hotel which appeared to be on the German side of the lake. Bregenz is situated where the borders of Austria, Germany and Switzerland meet. Thus, our experience ‘took in’ five countries (including Liechtenstein), three lakes and one opera!